Some comments on Nemesis

Hi, all —

I’m not sure why the comments function isn’t working for this week’s conveners’ post, so I’m pasting some comments here. If you’re responsible for commenting and haven’t yet done so, you can try to comment on this post or, if it still doesn’t work, send them to me and I’ll add them here.


From Nada:

It is always funny seeing how during the time of contagion, “God” is believed to be causing the disease in a dual way: it can be a blessing, it can be a curse. In chapter 2, we can see Bucky struggling with endless questions concerning God’s reasons for creating polio in the first place (p. 170). For religious communities (including the Jewish one), it is hard to believe that God would create something that would bring affliction and suffering to his own creation. Now, some may explain that disease and affliction exist because mankind have sinned and as a result, contagion is perceived as God’s “nemesis” or vengeance, but then again, why did/do good people had/have to suffer? And why is God (or the heavens) being randomly selective? What role does fear play when it comes to believing in God?

And from Odera:

Greetings Everyone,

I personally find this book to be a very interesting read. Unlike some of the texts we’ve looked out so far, Philip Roth is able to provide the readers with a clear and simple lens to reading the passage while still grappling with larger societal issues. At this point in the semester, we are slowly beginning to draw similarities amongst texts. With this one, a see relations to Ibsen’s Ghosts, Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People, and even Oedipus. 

Outside of its similarities to other texts, this one stands out to me for two reasons:

1.) The idea of the ‘plague’ as portrayed  is other texts is most weirdly described as a means to punish a society for its misdeeds. But with this society, there’s no apparent evidence for any form of misdeed. The plague, however, comes as some sort of test for the level of human frailty. To what extent can a society, which holds so steadfast to its Jewish identity and heritage, withstand the moral tests of WWII and the polio outbreak?  

2.) Secondly, the scapegoat role differs greatly from the traditional idea of the scapegoat. Based on my previous experiences with the concept of a scapegoat, when a society is hit with a plague or epidemic, the most ‘irrationally rational’ approach is for the indigenes of the society to lay the blame on an outsider- a societal outlier. With this text though, the scapegoat voluntarily and willingly declares himself the cause of the society’s downfall. This difference from other texts is further heightened as Bucky, the protagonist, is by no means an outsider to this society. Yes, he deals with issues like his poor eyesight, and inability to be conscripted into the American Army, but he is very much central to the workings of the society. He is the playground director, characterized as being of good physical build, and most—if not all—of the parents and children seem to hold him in high regard. So why does he willingly confer on himself the title of ‘scapegoat’ even when he doesn’t ideally fit into that role?

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  1. This is an additional, although belated, comment on Nemesis conveners’ post.

    The question of duty that you guys raised in the post forces us to recognize the fact that Bucky’s identity is not self-defined. It is a product of his ideals imposed by people around him: his grandfather, his friends Dave and Jake, his father as an ultimate example of who he does not want to become (135) These men instill in Bucky the need for him to constantly hold himself responsible for almost everything. His grandfather teaches him to be fearless and to stand up against the discrimination he is inevitably subject to due to his Jewish identity. His friends plant the seed of patriotism in him, causing him to somehow feel guilty for not fulfilling his duty because he fails to be conscripted into the army. His father’s leaving shows him what it means to be responsible for his family. All these ideals increasingly weigh Bucky down in the book. He feels like he needs to prove himself to these men, that he can live by their values. Yet by doing so, Bucky tragically plunges himself into his own downfall. This reminds me of the ending of a film called “The Social Network”, a semi-biographical movie on the life of Mark Zuckerberg, where one of the characters tells Mark: “You are not an asshole. You’re just trying so hard to be.” And that’s exactly what Bucky does. He’s trying so hard to prove himself when there’s just no need to do so.

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